Ultimate Guide to Employee Engagement: Strategies and Ideas to Improve It

Unengaged employees can impair your company in many ways:

  • You can experience a stunning amount of employee turnover,
  • You might lose your chance at a company-wide alignment,
  • And most importantly, the unengaged employee won’t ever reach their full potential.

I know for a fact that you’re going through some challenges in your own employee engagement strategies because, well, you’ve clicked on this article.

And I’m sure you could use a step-by-step guide that would help you create engaged and outperforming employees that would carry your business to the future.

🧐

In this article, I will go over the basics of the topic, then I’ll explain how you can measure and understand employee engagement right before I go over the ways of improving it, based on my own experience.

The road to retaining your top-talent starts here:

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement refers to a business’ ability to enable their employees become more committed to their work and workplace, and exceed their potentials. People who are fully engaged at work are dedicated to their company’s goals and values and are eager to contribute significantly to its overall success.

Why improve employee engagement

Employees who are engaged are more likely to work harder, solve problems,  grow and evolve faster, get along well with others, and remain at a company longer. All of these factors have a measurable impact on the business:

  • Increased productivity – according to SHRM analysis, people who are engaged in their work are more likely to contribute to the company’s success.
  • Lower turnover – according to the Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology at Work, engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their business, resulting in lower costs associated with hiring new employees, training them, and waiting for them to reach maximum productivity.
  • Increased revenue – according to Gallup, highly engaged teams are 21% more profitable, and those in the top 20% of engagement have a 41% lower absenteeism rate and a 59% lower attrition rate.
  • A better customer experience – according to the same Gallup study, highly engaged workplaces have a 10% rise in customer reviews and a 20% increase in sales.
what is employee engagement and why is it important
Employees perform better when there is active communication

The history of Employee Engagement

Employee engagement has a long history in business, dating back to the early 1970s in some form or another.

You see, employee satisfaction was a major priority in the early days.

In the 1980s, this developed into measuring ‘commitment,’ which was still an important part of the engagement, but the emphasis was on ‘how do we encourage people to stay in their jobs for life?’, which is becoming increasingly unlikely as the global workforce has become more fluid.

The rise of the topic

After the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) published ‘From People to Profits, the HR Link to the Service-Profit Chain’ in 1990, the term “engagement” entered the business lexicon. Around the same time, William Kahn introduced the term “employee engagement” in a paper for the Academy of Management.

Powered by the growth of the service economy, it made a clear relationship between employee attitudes and behavior and key business metrics like customer retention and revenue.

Employee engagement had become a key strategy in achieving better customer outcomes by the early 2000s, not only for HR to handle things like retention, absenteeism, and efficiency but also for the C-suite.

From employee engagement to ‘experience’

The experience economy has seen a transition toward ‘employee experience,’ a more holistic view of the workforce that sees engagement as only one lever to pull, just as the growth of the service economy in the 1970s and 1980s opened the door to engagement.

Employee listening programs that collect feedback throughout the employee lifecycle are used by today’s most effective companies, rather than only looking at an annual or biannual snapshot of how their employees feel. Since it aims to understand the whole employee experience, we call it experience data (or X-data).

Consider your employee lifetime at your company: there are several important milestones along the way, such as the interview, onboarding process, and performance reviews.

Each milestone provides an opportunity to collect feedback, learn about the main drivers of engagement, and figure out how to enhance the experience:

  • Always-on feedback – an anonymous, on-demand channel for workers to address their concerns and provide feedback.
  • Ad hoc surveys – provide feedback on specific initiatives, such as organizational changes, in real-time.
  • Employee lifecycle feedback – event-triggered feedback that gathers thoughts from employees at key points in their journey with the company. Candidate, onboarding, departure, and training reviews are all part of it.
  • Multi-rater assessments – simplified 360-degree reviews and feedback from peers, managers, and direct reports.
  • Census engagement surveys – this annual or bi-annual ‘deep dive’ explores the widest range of topics and helps you to consider the core factors of employee engagement as well as identify areas for improvement.

Employee churn rates, implementation of benefits programs, involvement in affinity groups, and other organizational data (O-data) are now being used by advanced employee experience practitioners.

When they are combined with experience data (X-data), HR leaders get a clear overview of their employees’ experiences.

Measuring employee engagement

It’s simple to understand and get started with employee engagement; in fact, there are only three steps to follow:

  1. Run your survey
  2. Analyze the data
  3. Act on and communicate the results

Let’s take a closer look at these steps.

1. Run your survey

Survey design – a good rule of thumb for the duration of an engagement survey is 30-50 items.

Most companies conduct an annual employee engagement survey, but you can choose a frequency that works best for you.

Collect feedback ensure that the whole company is encouraged to participate and that response rates are closely monitored.

To give people the best chance to provide feedback, you may want to hold the survey open for 2-3 weeks.

2. Get the data

Define the dashboard roll out – choose which dashboard views various teams will be able to see and when they will be able to see them.

Make it relevant – make sure you send results to the right people and don’t overwhelm them with data. You can map your survey to the organizational hierarchy, for example, so that managers receive the results of their own teams automatically. This allows you to focus on the information that is most relevant to them.

Set expectations – tell managers what you expect of them and what you need them to do with the results.

Brief the leadership team – don’t overload the executive team with data from the results.

Create an overall overview with the main insights and areas to focus on so you can figure out the next steps and action plans.

3. Act on the results

Set 1 or 2 key focus areas for organization-wide initiatives, and work closely with your leadership team. Assigning someone to each one to oversee the progress is a smart idea.

Managers should be able to see the main drivers of engagement with their teams, as well as where their teams score low.

Managers can then implement action plans to strengthen these areas, as these should be their top priorities.

It’s important to communicate what you’ve found out and what you’re doing (or not doing) to address the feedback. It’s important that employees are fully informed that something was actually done as a result of their feedback.


The 4 Stages of Improving Employee Engagement for Certain

There are 4 stages to improving your employee engagement: Surveying, Analyzing, Improving, and Maintaining. Here’s each of them in detail:

1- Employee engagement surveys

To achieve the best possible results and data, carefully consider how to design an effective employee engagement survey. 

employee engagement surveys
Employee Engagement Surveys are the 1st step towards creating engaged employees

You can follow the steps I’m going to go over, to create your own survey and conduct it.

Before you start

Here are a few things to consider first:

  • Decide who you need to include and who you don’t need to include in your input (manage expectations by explaining why you are not consulting them)
  • From the beginning, establish clear deadlines and turnaround times.
  • Request that participants notify you in advance if they are unable to meet the deadline so that you can appoint someone else.
  • Establish a single person to sign off on everything, and make it clear to everyone involved in the sign-off process that when they say it’s done, it’s done.
  • Distinguish between “good to have” and “must have” questions.
  • Don’t let a committee plan your survey.

Using our survey template

Our employee engagement survey template follows industry standards by using a 5-point Likert scale for all items, ranging from “Strongly agree” to “Strongly disagree.”

The questions cover three key areas:

Engagement – these questions go at the beginning of the survey and measure pride in the company, motivation, advocacy, intent to stay, and work satisfaction.

Core themes – these ask about the conditions that influence engagement. Collaboration, communication, customer focus, growth and development, inclusion, leadership, and work processes, to name a few.

Additional themes – you may also want to ask about other topics, depending on what’s going on in your business or industry at the moment. When it comes to additional questions, try not to include too many, and only ask one’s that are appropriate. This will save your survey from being too long and cumbersome.

Make sure you’ve read our complete guide to Employee Engagement Surveys before moving on to the next step.

2- Analyzing your results

After you’ve gathered data, you need to turn it into insights.

With the right analysis, you will figure out what drives key indicators like engagement and retention, so that you know where to focus your efforts.

A key driver analysis — a statistical test that identifies the factors that have the greatest effect on employee engagement — is one of the most useful tools here.

It shows the drivers of engagement, their importance, and how people rated them in an easy-to-read format.

The idea is that by concentrating on the high impact/low scoring drivers, you will address the areas that have the greatest impact on employee engagement.

The key drivers of employee engagement

The following factors have all been shown to have a significant impact on employee engagement.

All of these should be addressed in your engagement survey. Your analysis should reveal which ones need the most attention.

Collaboration – Are they willing to collaborate with other teams or colleagues without experiencing any challenges or conflicts?

Communication – Are they getting enough information from the organization on what’s going on, and do they feel heard?

Company leadership – Do employees have belief and trust in their leaders?

Corporate responsibility and ethics – Do they think the company is a good corporate citizen working for a good cause?

Culture – Management cultivates an open and trusting atmosphere in which employees’ values align with those of their employer.

Customer focus – Are they working in a customer-focused company where they have the freedom to do what they need to do?

Growth and development – Do your employees believe they have good opportunity for development and clear understanding of how to do so at this company?

Inclusion – Do they believe the company is welcoming and fair to all employees?

Job enablement – Do they feel they have the necessary training to perform their jobs?

Safety – Do employees believe their safety is important to the company?

Work-life balance – Do they feel the business allows them to strike the right work-life balance?

Work processes – Do your company’s work processes enable the employees to be as efficient as possible?

Using employee engagement software to find insights

As with any other task, there is actually a bunch of digital tools that can aid you in understanding employees and improving user engagement.

Even so, an employee engagement platform can be an effective and scalable way to analyze data automatically.

Whether it’s recognizing the key drivers of an engagement or automatically surfacing the behaviors that have the greatest impact on engagement, the best platforms make complex analysis easy.

The best platforms often map the outcomes back to the organizational hierarchy, and everything is sent directly to managers’ inboxes, allowing them to get right to work and improve things for their teams.

You can use:

  • Kudos can help you establish company-wide recognition and feedback for all employees,
  • Peakon can help you create meaningful employee engagement surveys and turn the results into insights,
  • and UserGuiding can help you train and educate your users around your digital platforms to help activate them.

Of course, there are many other tools you can try,

Check out our list: 14 Best Employee Engagement Software

3- How to Improve Employee Engagement

Taking action on the insights is the best way to improve employee engagement.

Here’s how to ensure that your employee engagement data lead to real changes and improvements for your employees.

Improving employee engagement is a science in and of itself. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution; it all boils down to knowing the key drivers and the background of your business so you can change what matters most.

improve employee engagement
Changes both in organizational and team level should be done to improve employee engagement.

There are two approaches to making improvements: organizational changes and changes within individual teams.

In the majority of cases, you’ll have to do the both.

At an organizational level, work with your leadership team to identify the key drivers that affect everyone.

“It is only ever worthwhile to measure and analyze employee sentiment if you are willing to share results back and drive action”

-Marina Pearce, Head of Talent Analytics at Ford

The greatest influence, however, will be at the team level. The vast majority of key drivers are the aspects that managers can influence, such as career development, resolving workplace problems, and defining goals.

Empowering your manager to drive change

When they have employee engagement results, managers will know where they have a problem.

But how can they make things better?

You can help your managers take action through a process called guided action planning.

With guided action planning, Managers can “double-click” on their opportunity areas. It goes beyond highlighting wide areas for improvement to recommending specific actions that leaders should take in response to the feedback they received.

It works like this:

1️⃣ A manager learns they need to improve in one or more areas based on employee survey results

2️⃣ HR surfaces the specific survey statements that got low rankings

3️⃣ Based on the feedback, HR recommends specific steps — an action plan — that the manager should take to address and improve the issues. 

Then you can make use of employee feedback to build a closed-loop system:

Giving every leader the information and power they need to make a difference in the areas that matter most to their employees.

You may also change the dynamic from HR imposing accountability on managers — “here’s your feedback; please act on it as necessary” — to HR enabling accountability.

Automating guided action planning

Without the help of technology, driving action at scale is difficult, especially in medium-to-large organizations.

As soon as the engagement results are in, managers will see their action plans immediately.

The strategies are all focused on what their teams have said as well as the key driver review, which identifies which areas to focus on.

All that is required of a manager is to log in, open their plans, and follow them step by step. They can also keep track of their progress and communicate with their team through employee pulse surveys.

4- Maintaining your engagement program

Employee engagement programs do not stay the same over time, as the workforce changes or as your employee engagement strategy evolves.

If you’ve been running an employee engagement program for a while, you may notice that you’re not getting the same responses or results as you once did. This may simply indicate that it needs a refresh.

Here’s how to keep things fresh.

Review your questions

Take a close look at the questions you’re asking. Any of them may be obsolete or irrelevant at this time and therefore should be deleted.

Keep an eye out for the following types of questions:

  • score very highly over and over
  • are often skipped (probably because the question is unclear or irrelevant).
  • are not actionable or answerable – each item should have an action and resources associated with it
  • now appear to be obsolete or outdated to your company

Take a look at your reporting review

Evaluate the quality and influence of the executive and team reporting in order to improve it.

Make sure you: 

  • know who your reporting audiences are and how to meet them
  • have tools in place for your managers to help them make necessary changes
  • consider using other types of reports, such as videos and animations, to effectively convey the findings.

Reconsider frequency

To get a good response rate, the timing of your engagement survey is important. I

f you regularly conduct an annual survey, think about whether it would be easier to conduct it more than once a year. Will shorter, more regular surveys would be ideal for your business’s rhythm?

Employees who work for a company that “very well” implements feedback are twice as much engaged as those who work for a company that “really poorly” implements feedback.

Personalize engagement

Think about how you can better engage each employee individually in the survey.

  • individual reports for each employee to see a review of their results after they are completed survey 
  • provide a central location for employees to view results, or a general sharing of results 
  • Include other channels of communication  – do you rely solely on email, or are there any other platforms you can use?

Branding refresh

Freshen up the design of your survey with new colors and features to make it look fresh and relevant.

Allow your creative team to create a new brand and theme for your program if you have one.

Have you come up with a catchy name for the project?

If needed, update the website’s branding and coding. If you have internal resources that design websites in CSS, they will assist you in creating a clear theme for the surveys.

Conclusion

Growth is a lengthy and complex process, and measuring engagement is a strategy that involves the employees’ hearts and minds.

People are basically dynamic animals with a range of perspectives that tend to change over time. As a result, don’t be concerned about copying other companies because their employees are different. 

Keep your head on a swivel and respond to the feedback from your team on a regular basis to be able to build your own engagement strategy that will produce the intended results!


Frequently Asked Questions


What is employee engagement and why is it important?

Employee engagement refers to a business’ ability to enable their employees become more committed to their work and workplace, and exceed their potentials; and employee engagement is crucial because, well, who wouldn’t want their employees to outperform themselves while being loyal to the brand?


What is the purpose of employee engagement?

Employee engagement aims to provide the conditions for the employees to exceed their potentials, improve and strengthen the relationship between the company and the employee, and encourage the teams to contribute more towards business’ goals.


What are the primary causes of high employee engagement?

A high employee engagement is achieved through understanding employees and their motivations through surveys, and using the insights provided by these surveys to adapt to their needs and provide them the optional workplace.

Osman Koc

Osman is the CEO and Co-founder of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 2000+ companies trust in their user onboarding.

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